America's Mental Health Crisis Hidden Behind Bars

People can't get well in a cell. The nation’s mental health system today is not only fundamentally broken, it’s cruel and unusual ~ Judge Steve Leifman

It's recreation time at a Los Angeles County jail known as the Twin Towers. Nearly a dozen disheveled young men stand docilely as they munch on sandwiches out of brown paper bags.

They're half-naked except for sleeveless, thick, blanket-like restraints wrapped around them like medieval garments.

All are chained and handcuffed to shiny metal tables bolted to the floor.

"It's lunchtime and they're actually [in] programming right now," says a veteran guard, LA County Sheriff's Deputy Myron Trimble.

Programming, in theory, means a treatment regimen. But it's difficult to determine what treatment they're actually receiving.

A whiteboard nearby tracks how many days since guards on this floor had to forcibly restrain anyone: 54. These inmates haven't been violent, he says.

So why are all of the men shackled to tables for recreation?

"Just to make sure that they're not walking around," Trimble says. "If they don't take their medications, they could be deemed unpredictable."

No one is under the illusion that shackles are helping mentally ill inmates get well.

"I think everyone can agree that it's rather inhumane to have the inmate handcuffed while out," says LA Sheriff's Capt. Tania Plunkett, with the Twin Towers' Access to Care Bureau. "However, because of spacing and the lack of programming, we're not able to really focus on getting the inmate better to eventually lead to having them in a program without being handcuffed."

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